What Are Memory Foam Mattresses?

Learn why so many people are opting for memory foam over innerspring mattresses.

By Nicole Gleichmann

Memory foam mattresses have quickly become one of the most popular types of mattresses available on the market today. They are well-known for their ability to hug and contour the body, providing unmatched comfort.

It is memory foam’s ability to change shape when exposed to body heat that allows it to contour to each individual’s unique curves. This results in pressure relief and proper spine alignment, allowing people to wake up without unnecessary aches and pains.

What Is Memory Foam?

Memory foam is a material that was first developed by NASA scientists back in the 1960s. They needed a material that would provide support and comfort for astronauts as they sat during takeoff and landing.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that memory foam was first used to make a mattress. Even though innerspring mattresses maintain the spot as the most popular type of mattress purchased today, memory foam mattress owners are the most satisfied with their mattresses. Memory foam is also used as the comfort layer in other types of mattresses, such as hybrid mattresses with an innerspring base layer.

Many people do not know that there are in fact four types of memory foam:

  1. Viscoelastic memory foam: Traditional memory foam mattresses are made from viscoelastic polyurethane foam, and it is the most commonly used material in memory foam mattresses.
  2. Plant-based memory foam: There are memory foam mattresses that are made from plants, including coconut and soy. These mattresses feel a bit different from the traditional viscoelastic mattresses; they are a bit springier and more breathable.
  3. Gel-infused memory foam: Gel is added to some memory foam mattresses for better temperature regulation. Viscoelastic memory foam is well-known for trapping heat, leading to a sweaty night for those who sleep hot. With gel infused throughout, memory foam is better for those with temperature sensitivity.
  4. Copper-infused memory foam: Copper infusion is another tactic used by manufacturers to encourage a cooler night’s sleep. The copper particles absorb some of the heat from the mattress, allowing you to sleep less hot. You may find this type of mattress marketed towards those with joint pain because copper may help to relieve symptoms. However, recent research does not support this benefit.

Benefits of Memory Foam Mattresses

Motion Isolation

Do you share your bed with your partner, animals, or children? If so, you understand the importance of limiting motion transfer. When you or your partner moves around or gets into or out of bed when the other person is sleeping, that movement can be spread through some mattress materials. Memory foam, however, does a great job at isolation movements, allowing you to rest peacefully when your partner moves around at night.

Quiet

When you move around on a memory foam mattress, you will notice that there is almost no noise that comes from the mattress itself. For couples and light sleepers, a quiet mattress can be the difference between a good night’s rest and a night spent tossing and turning.

Pressure Point Relief

Because memory foam responds to your body heat and weight, it sinks in most at the parts of your body that stick out the most. The result is a material that supports your body in a comfortable way, reducing pressure on your joints.

People who experience joint pain and stiffness or those who must spend excess hours in their beds can benefit the most from this pressure relief.

Body Contouring

When you go to bed at night, one of the most important parts of your mattress is its ability to support your spine in a neutral position. If your spine is not properly aligned, it can lead to trouble sleeping and aches and pains that last throughout the day.

Because memory foam allows the heavy parts of your body to sink in more than the lighter parts, it naturally encourages good spine alignment. This can be particularly beneficial for those who struggle with back or neck pain.

Additionally, this body contouring is great for certain sleep positions. If you are a side sleeper or a back sleeper, this contouring may be necessary for proper alignment.

Cost

Memory foam mattresses are one of the most affordable options available. While there are expensive memory foam mattresses, there are many options that are less than $500 for a queen mattress. In comparison to innerspring, latex, hybrid, and air mattresses, only innerspring mattresses tend to be cheaper.

The Drawbacks of Memory Foam Mattresses

Heat

Memory foam can trap heat, meaning that some memory foam mattresses will return your body heat right back to you over the night. For those who sleep cool, this can be a comforting feeling, but for those who sleep hot, it can make quality sleep hard to come by.

There are technologies that have made memory foam sleep less hot, such as copper or gel infusion. However, even with these technologies, other mattress types tend to sleep cooler.

Feeling Trapped

People who enjoy memory foam mattresses often describe them as feeling like they are lying on a cloud or marshmallow. There are others, however, that relate this feeling to quicksand. Because your sink into memory foam, some people can feel like they are being trapped.

The ability of a mattress material to quickly respond to your movements is known as responsiveness, and memory foam is not as responsive as materials like latex or coils found in innerspring mattresses.

This sinking in feeling and lack of responsiveness can result in some people finding it hard to get out of a memory foam mattress or move around at night. Elderly people, those who are overweight, and those who are injured are the most likely to struggle with memory foam’s responsiveness.

What You Should Look for When Shopping for a Memory Foam Mattress

Now that you understand the pros and cons of memory foam mattresses, it is important to know how to choose the best one for you. There are two figures that can help you choose a mattress made out of high-quality memory foam: density and IDL.

Density

The density of memory foam can help you determine how well it will hold your body weight and how quickly it will return to its original shape. Density ranges from about 1.5 to 8 pounds per cubic foot, with high-quality memory foam mattresses typically between 4 and 6 pounds per cubic foot.

A lower density will return to its original shape more quickly and will not offer the same level of pressure point relief and contouring that you will find in a higher density foam. A higher density foam will offer great contouring, but it will retain its shape more slowly which can be less than ideal for anyone who tosses and turns a lot when sleeping.

Indentation Load-Deflection (IDL)

IDL will tell you how firm a memory foam mattress will be. The lower the IDL the softer the mattress, and the higher the IDL, the firmer the mattress. Typically, people prefer an IDL of 11-15. Lower can lead to more of a quicksand feeling and difficulty getting out of bed, while a higher LDL doesn’t contour quite as well.


Conclusion

Memory foam mattresses are considered to be one of the most comfortable types of mattresses. Their ability to conform to each of our unique body shapes makes them ideal for relieving aches and pains, plus they are nearly silent and isolate motion, making them a great option for couples.


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